Plan for deep-water fish pens off Tasmania

Senator Whish-Wilson says 'a national push' to farm oceans already under pressure is concerning.
Senator Whish-Wilson says 'a national push' to farm oceans already under pressure is concerning.

Plans to develop fish farms in deeper waters off Tasmania, and potentially pave the way for similar operations across Australia, have been labelled by critics as an industry "free pass".

The island's salmon industry has been under increased scrutiny since the release of Richard Flanagan's book Toxic, which paints a bleak picture of its environmental impact.

The federal government and Tasmanian government on Monday announced an agreement to "support a framework to deliver offshore aquaculture" in Commonwealth waters, those more than three nautical miles off the coast.

"We are committed to growing the aquaculture sector. We want to partner with industry to make sure they can find environments in which to do it," federal assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Jonno Duniam, told reporters.

"We want to make sure we get the science right but we, as a federal government, are committed to seeing them grow."

Senator Duniam said the agreement was a significant step towards a 2017 federal commitment to develop aquaculture in Commonwealth waters.

"This is something that paves the way for this to occur anywhere around the country ... in Commonwealth waters," he added.

Federal Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the "deeply troubled" industry shouldn't be given a free pass to the ocean.

"A global tide of marine plastic, climate change, and invasive species are putting radical pressures on the marine environment," he said.

"We are very concerned at this national push to farm our oceans when they already face such enormous pressures."

Senator Duniam didn't provide a timeline for the plan and said it will be guided by those doing the science.

Independent not-for-profit Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre will undertake studies as part of the agreement.

Chief executive John Whittington said early indications suggest Bass Strait has potential for aquaculture and offshore renewables.

"First thing we have to do is understand the wave climate out there and the temperatures. We've had buoys out in Bass Strait ... we're going to build on that research now," he said.

State Minister for Primary Industries and Water Guy Barnett said the landmark agreement would lead to more jobs in Tasmania.

"It's a win-win. We're looking for economic growth, sustainable development and environmental benefits," he said.

The Tasmanian government recently released a 10-year salmon farming plan, to begin in 2023, which promised no net increase in fish farm leased areas in state waters.

It also put an immediate 12 month moratorium on new leases and exploration permits.

Tasmanian Alliance for Marine Protection co-chair Peter George said the federal agreement would do nothing to address current issues.

"When industry and government relinquish and rehabilitate the disastrous coastal salmon leases, Tasmanians might begin to believe honest intent," he said.

The state's aquaculture industry has a checkered history, including mass fish deaths, escapes and pen fires.

The Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association, which represents major salmon companies Tassal, Huon Aquaculture and Petuna, welcomed the commitment to establish a framework for sustainable aquaculture opportunities in Commonwealth waters.

"Whether it's finfish, seaweed, shellfish, new species or integrated multi-trophic farms, this provides a new frontier for responsible growth of Australian aquaculture to match the growing Australian and global consumer demand for healthy farmed seafood," a spokesman said.

Australian Associated Press